It’s pretty common to have an on-again, off-again relationship with exercise. But isn’t working out sometimes better than not working out at all?
New thinking from exercise scientists suggests that occasional exercise still benefits the body, even if it’s inconsistent. Studies from the last few years have shown that people who cram their weekly exercise into one or two days on the weekend — so-called “weekend warriors” — can make up for a week of sloth. “If you choose to exercise only on the weekends and equal the volume of someone exercising three days a week during the week, you get the same health benefits,” says Linda Pescatello, PhD, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut.
The body changes quickly with exercise. Within weeks, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility improve and activity feels easier as the body becomes more efficient at breathing and regulating oxygen, says Melissa Morris, a certified exercise physiologist and educator. “Individuals may also notice some fat loss and muscle gain within four to six weeks,” she says, along with lower blood pressure, better mental health, and more energy. These improvements continually increase as people remain active, though they may eventually slow or even plateau.
There are instantaneous benefits as well. For example, studies have shown that after a brisk walk, blood pressure lowers and may remain lowered throughout the day, Pescatello says. “With blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and some components of the blood lipid profile, exercise clearly has acute and immediate health benefits.”
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But once a person stops exercising, those changes can disappear just as fast. Morris says that deconditioning occurs anywhere from one to four weeks after exercise is stopped, depending on the person’s fitness level (the more fit you are, the longer it takes the body to decondition). Cardio endurance begins to decline first…